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Monthly Archives: August 2016

Toronto’s Yonge Street streetcars—ended in 1954

Peter Witt car at halton Museum

A Peter Witt Streetcar #2894, built by Ottawa Car Company for the Toronto Transportation Commission (later renamed the Toronto Transit Commission)

My earliest memories of the Peter Witt streetcars on Toronto’s Yonge Street date from the 1940s. In that decade, the intersection at Yonge and Queen was the commercial heart of the city, as it was where Eaton’s and Simpsons department stores were located. It was when my mother journeyed downtown to shop at Eaton’s that I first rode on these streetcars.

Later, as a teenager, these cars became an integral part of my life as the major movie theatres were located on Yonge Street or within close proximity to it. Also, Maple Leaf Gardens was only one block east of Yonge. In the 1950s, the theatres on Yonge and “The Gardens” on Carlton Street were among the most important entertainment venues of the city. 

In past decades, people who lived west of Yonge Street rarely journeyed on the streetcars to areas east of Yonge. There was little incentive, since when you arrived at Yonge, the main commercial establishments of the city were readily accessible. People who dwelt east of Yonge, similarly did not ride the streetcars west of it, for the same reason. However, everyone rode on the Yonge Streetcars. They were the best known and most frequently travelled in all of Toronto. This is why it was logical in the late-1940s to begin building the city’s first subway under the street. 

The most famous of all the Yonge streetcars were the Peter Witt cars (1921-1963). They required two men to operate, but I seem to remember that in the 1950s, some of the smaller models, such as those on Bay and Bathurst Streets, required only one person. On these, the motorman collected the fares. On the larger Yonge Street cars, passengers boarded by the front doors, which folded back when opened. The driver (motorman) sat at the front of the car, but people basically ignored him, since he did not collect the fares. Behind the driver was a large box that in winter held sand to provide traction on icy streetcar tracks. 

Passengers who sat or stood at the front of the car did not pay their fare until it was time to depart. Then, they exited through the centre doors, where the conductor sat. People dropped their tickets or cash into the fare box located beside the conductor, and were given a transfer if they required one. They then stepped down to the roadway. The centre doors did not fold back, but slid across to open. The conductor controlled the doors, and also maintained the coal stove that provided heat in winter. It was located opposite the conductor. Passengers seated or standing at the back of the car had already paid their fare, so when it was time for them to depart, they simply exited via the centre doors.

When I was a boy, all the seats were covered with what appeared to be brown leather. I always pleaded with my parent to pass by the conductor and pay the fare. This was because I wanted to sit in the seat at the back of the car. It was huge, with large windows surrounding it on three sides, providing a panoramic view of the street.

When I was a teenager, I preferred the window-seats, which were on the sides of the cars. Their windows provided a better breeze on hot summer days. On the ledge of each window there was a small brass plate, and on it were engraved the words, “Keep Arm In.” Teenagers invariably enjoyed teasing fate by sticking their heads out the window. However, when another streetcar was approaching from the opposite direction on the other track, at the last moment they quickly pulled their heads inside. My parents continually warned me not to imitate the older kids. In winter, my preferred seat or standing space was near the stove.

The Peter Witt streetcars contained engines with sufficient power to pull a trailer up a steep incline. This was necessary, since the hill on Yonge Street, north of Davenport Road, was quite severe. Trailers possessed two large centre doors that opened by sliding back. The door on the right was for boarding, and the one on the left for exiting. Inside the trailer, there was a space between the two doors where the conductor sat to collect the fares. Similar to the cars that pulled the trailers, passengers did not pay their fares until they passed the conductor. 

After arriving at Front Street, the Yonge streetcars looped around Union Station. Thus, many immigrants caught their first sight of the city from their windows. My father arrived as a young man in Toronto in 1921, from a small village on Canada’s east coast. It was the first year that the Peter Witt cars commenced operating in the city. He viewed them as modern and up-to-date. When he departed Union Station and boarded a Yonge streetcar, it was a warm day in May. Despite the brass plaque on the ledge of the window, I am certain that he stuck his head out to gawk at the skyscrapers on Yonge Street, especially those between Front and Queen Streets. The sight of the enormous Loew’s Theatre (the Elgin), north of Queen, and the Pantages (the Ed Mirvish) caught his imagination. Years later, he told me that on that occasion he had vowed to visit them as soon as possible. An older brother, who had been in Toronto for several years, had told him about the “naughty” vaudeville shows. 

For many decades, the Yonge cars were the main means of journeying to the St. Lawrence Market on Front Street. During World War 1 and World War 11, thousands of soldiers departed for overseas and returned home after the wars from Union Station. Many of these men and women travelled to the station or journeyed away from it on the Yonge streetcars. During the 1940s, I rode on them to attend the circus at Maple Leaf Gardens and to visit Santa Claus at Eaton’s Toyland. When I was a teenager, I attended theatres such as the Tivoli, Imperial, Loew’s Downtown, Loew’s Uptown, Downtown, Biltmore, Savoy, Odeon Hyland, and the Hollywood via the Yonge cars. 

History of the Peter Witt Cars in Toronto 

In 1921, Toronto’s contract with the Toronto Railway Company for the transportation needs of the city ended, and it was not renewed. City Council had realized that because the city was expanding rapidly, it was necessary to become more involved, so created the Toronto Transportation Commission. It purchased the streetcars of the former company (the TRC).

Several years before 1921, the city had been aware that many of the streetcars they would inherit were in poor condition. They began making plans and after careful research, they negotiated a license to allow them to place a contract for a fleet of Peter Witt streetcars. They had been designed by a commissioner with Cleveland Street Railway Company, and named after him. There were seven different series, allowing for variations in size, but they all possessed a similar appearance—solid, square-shaped, with straight lines.

The cars were ideal for transporting large numbers of passengers on busy downtown routes. Their heavy steel bodies were well suited to Toronto’s severe winters, and contained large windows for good ventilation on hot summer days. They seated about 60 passengers, with sufficient standing room for many more. Toronto ordered 575 of the streetcars, 350 of them with engines. The other 225 were trailers that were pulled by the streetcars with motors. The Canadian Car and Foundry Company in Montreal was given the contract and most of them were built by this company. However, 50 were sub-contracted to the Ottawa Car Company, and another 50 to the Preston Car Company.

To introduce Torontonians to the new streetcars, one of them was exhibited at the CNE in August of 1921. Their debut on Toronto streets was on October 2nd of that year. The first streets to be converted entirely to Peter Witt cars were the busiest routes—Yonge, College, Dundas and Bloor. However, the Yonge cars became the most famous of them all.

In the 1920s, the cars had wooden seats and coal stoves for heating in winter. The brakes were operated by compressed air. However, in the years ahead the seats were upholstered with brown leatherette material, and the heating system changed to forced-air from electric heaters. For several decades, the streetcars were the work-horses of the system. However, in 1938, the sleek Presidents’ Conference Cars (PCCs’) were introduced, which soon became known as the “red rockets.” They slowly replaced the older Peter Witt cars. The Peter Witt cars stopped serving the Yonge Street line on March 30, 1954, when the Yonge Subway opened. However, the last of these streetcars did not disappear until 1963.

After the Peter Witt car removed from service, they were stripped for useable parts and the remainder sold for junk metal.

Sources: www.blofto – transittoronto.on.ca/streetcar 

New cars, York Station – December 22, 1922

Peter Witt streetcars arriving at the York Street station in December 1922. Toronto Archives, S0071, item 1514.

Sign boards and motor car, (front), Loews sign – May 1, 1924   Witt motor, rear end – April 24, 1924

Left-hand photo shows the front of car number 2558, which was employed on the Yonge Street route. The right-hand photo is of the back of the same streetcar. Toronto Archives, S 0071, Item 3152 (left photo) and the right-hand photo, F0071, item 3133 (right). Both photos were taken in April 1924.

Witt car, (Commercial Department) – October 30, 1928

Passengers boarding Peter Witt car #2520. In the background is the Royal York Hotel. The photo was taken in 1928, when the hotel was under construction. It appears that the streetcar is southbound on York Street. Scott Street is one block east of Yonge. I am uncertain about the routing of the streetcar, but it possibly journeyed east on Front to Scott, then north to Front, west on Front, and then, north on Yonge. Toronto Archives, S 0071, Item 6396. 

Witt car #2536, looking to the head end, (Executive Department) – January 6, 1932

View from the rear, looking toward the front doors of car # 2536. Photo taken on January 6, 1932. In this decade, the seats had wooden slats. Toronto Archives, S 0071, item 9056.

Witt car #2536 , rear end, (Executive Department) – January 6, 1932

View of the rear of same car as in the previous photo, on January 6, 1932. Toronto Archives, S 0071, item 9059.

                              Witt car #2536, vestibule, front entrance, (Executive Department) – January 6, 1932

Entrance of the same car on January 6, 1932. I do remember this type of Peter Witt streetcar, when the driver was enclosed in cabin with a door. Toronto Archives, S 0071, item 9060. 

Witt car, interior, (Commercial Department) – October 30, 1928

Passengers in a Peter Witt car in 1928. The driver is enclosed a cabin and the conductor can be seen in his booth. Toronto Archives, s 0071, item 6398.

Interior, centre double wood frame sign board, (wide) – April 25, 1924

Ceiling of a car in 1924, with the advertisements above the windows and on the ceiling. Toronto Archives, F 0071, Item 3153.

Brill motor, (interior), #2590 – March 2, 1923

View looking toward the front of car #2590 on March 2, 1923. The conductor’s seat between the centre doors can be seen, as well as the coal stove. Toronto Archives, S 0071, item 1914.

Streetcar advertising, (Commercial Department) – April 27, 1928

A trailer car in 1928. Visible are the centre doors and the section in between where the conductor sat. Toronto Archives, S 0071, item 5773. 

Yonge Street, looking north, from north of Queen, noon hour traffic – December 24, 1924

Yonge Street north of Queen on December 24, 1924. The Eaton’s store (demolished) is on the left, its north facade on Albert Street, which no longer extends to Yonge Street. The Eaton Centre is now on Yonge between Queen and Dundas. A Peter Witt car with a trailer attached is travelling northbound. Toronto Archives, s 0071, item 3632. 

Yonge St, looking north, from King, noon hour traffic – December 24, 1924

Yonge Street looking north from King Street on December 24, 1924. The Peter Witt trailer is southbound toward King. On the east side of Yonge is the Strand Theatre, built in 1919. Toronto Archives, s 0071, item 3631.

Traffic on Yonge St, looking north, from south side of Queen St; congestion as far as the eye can see and a solid line of curb parked cars, 3:26 p.m., Friday, December 20, 1935 (Traffic Study Department) – 1936

Gazing north on Yonge Street from Queen Street in 1935. On the east side of the street is Loew’s Downtown, which is now the Elgin Theatre. The buildings on the northwest and northeast corners of the street still exist today but are employed for other commercial purposes. Toronto Archives, s 0071, Item 11703. 

Peter Witt car at halton Museum (2)

A Peter Witt streetcar photographed in the 1980s at the Halton County Radial Railway Museum.

1920s Peter Witt streetcar, interior

The interior of the same streetcar at the museum. This is the type of car that I remember on Yonge Street, with the padded brown leatherette seats.

To view the Home Page for this blog: https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/

For more information about the topics explored on this blog:

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2016/03/02/tayloronhistory-comcheck-it-out/

The publication entitled, Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” explores 50 of Toronto’s old theatres and contains over 80 archival photographs of the facades, marquees and interiors of the theatres. It relates anecdotes and stories by the author and others who experienced these grand old movie houses.  

                          cid_E474E4F9-11FC-42C9-AAAD-1B66D852[1]

   To place an order for this book:

https://www.historypress.net/catalogue/bookstore/books/Toronto-Theatres-and-the-Golden-Age-of-the-Silver-Screen/9781626194502 .

Book also available in Chapter/Indigo, the Bell Lightbox and AGO Book Shops, and by phoning University of Toronto Press, Distribution: 416-667-7791 (ISBN 978.1.62619.450.2)

                                 image_thumb6_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb[2]    

Another book on theatres, published by Dundurn Press, is entitled, “Toronto’s Movie Theatres of Yesteryear—Brought Back to Thrill You Again.” It contains over 125 archival photographs and relates interesting anecdotes about these grand old theatres and their fascinating histories.

The book is available at local book stores throughout Toronto or for a link to order this book: https://www.dundurn.com/books/Torontos-Local-Movie-Theatres-Yesteryear

                        Toronto: Then and Now®

Another publication, “Toronto Then and Now,” published by Pavilion Press (London, England) explores 75 of the city’s heritage sites. It contains archival and modern photos that allow readers to compare scenes and discover how they have changed over the decades. For further information follow the link to Amazon.com  here  or contact the publisher directly by the link below:

http://www.ipgbook.com/toronto–then-and-now—products-9781910904077.php?page_id=21

 

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Toronto’s Lost CNE

“Toronto’s Lost CNE” refers to structures and features that over the past decades have been demolished or discontinued. Though I remain a fan of the Canadian National Exhibition and attempt to attend it each year, it is on these occasions that I find myself gazing around the grounds and recalling the many features of the annual late-summer fair that have disappeared.

                                   The Shell Tower

DSCN0829   Canada A. a052968-v8[1] 

CNE’s Shell Tower depicted on a postcard (left), and a photo of the tower (right) from  the Canada Archives, a 052968

                         1955. Tor Lib. pictures-r-2743[1]

              The Shell Tower in 1955, Toronto Public Library, r-2743

The Shell Tower was built by the Shell Oil Company in 1955, its architect George Robb. Located on Princess Boulevard, it was a glass and steel structure, almost 12 storeys in height (120’), containing an observation deck near the top. Above the observation deck was a large clock, visible from anywhere within the CNE grounds. As a teenager, each year I climbed to its summit via the stairs inside the glass-enclosed stairwells. From the top, there was a magnificent view of the CNE grounds, the lake, and the downtown skyline. When the tower was renamed the Bulova Tower, the clock was converted to digital, one of the first in the city. The tower was demolished in 1985 to accommodate the Indy race track.

PICT0083 

Photo taken from the top of the Shell Tower in 1957. The camera is facing north toward the Horse Palace and the Coliseum (now the Ricoh Coliseum), which today, on its east side, is attached to the Direct Energy Centre.

                          The CNE Grandstand

PICT0081

This view of the CNE Grandstand was also taken in 1957, from the top of the Shell Tower. Visible are the stage, background sets, and props for the grandstand show. A section of the midway is in the foreground.

The CNE Grandstand was built in 1948, its architects Morani and Morris. The design won an architectural silver prize in 1950. Its massive steel-truss roof protected the crowds from the sun and the rain during grandstand performances and other events, such as stock car races. Its north facade possessed red bricks and limestone, creating a degree of architectural elegance. The shows presented on the grandstand’s stage, held every evening during the run of the Ex, were magnificent in scale as they often featured a cast of over 1500. The orchestra was conducted by Howard Cable from 1953 until 1968. On the ground floor of the grandstand’s north side there was a Stoodleigh Restaurant. Unfortunately, the stadium was demolished in 1999.

   1950s, CNE archives  ad68fb7f-1f51-43c2-aa3b-ecd2a6f1f526[1]

The north facade of the CNE Grandstand in the 1950s. CNE Archives, ad68fb7f-1f51-43o2

Canada A. a052935-v8[1]

A view of the stage during a grandstand show in the 1950s, Canada Archives, a052935-v8

Canada A. a052926-v8[1]

Another view of the stage during an evening CNE grandstand show. Canada Archives, a05926-v8

Series 1465, File 138, Item 13

The grandstand in 1976, when it was a football and baseball stadium. Toronto Archives, S1465, Fl10138, id 0013

1995- DSCN0850

                 Photo of the grandstand taken in 1995.

                The Manufacturers Building.

Crowds at C.N.E., Manufacturer's Building in background – 1908

Crowds in front of the Manufacturers Building in 1908, Toronto Archives, S0409, item 0043.

PICT0025

This photo was taken in 1958, from the north side of the Gooderham Fountain, the Manufacturers Building visible in the background. The Manufacturers Building opened in 1903, its architect George W. Guinlock, who also designed the Horticulture (now the Muzik Club), and the Art and Crafts Buildings (now Medieval Times), as well as the CNE Fire and Police Stations. The Manufacturers Building was located to the east of the Ontario Government Building (now The Liberty Grand). Although it was only one-storey in height, its soaring roof, supported by structural steel, created the illusion of a much taller structure. It displayed household appliances and other manufactured products, many of them first seen by Torontonians in this building. Two examples are RCA Victor televisions in 1939 and early-day microwave ovens in 1958. Displays were eventually expanded to include the manufactured goods of foreign countries. The last year it existed, it featured the products of Spain. The building was destroyed by fire in 1974 and never rebuilt. In the foreground of the above photo is the Gooderham Fountain.

Copy of PICT0068

The Manufacturers Building prior to the fire that demolished it in 1974.

International Building- burnt 1974 Pub. Lib.   tspa_0000630f[1]

The Manufacturers Building following the fire in 1974, the Ontario Government Building (now the Liberty Grand) is to the west of it (right-hand side). Photo from the Toronto Public Library, 0000630.

                 The Gooderham Fountain

Fonds 1244, Item 269

The Gooderham Fountain in 1926, Toronto Archives, F1244, Item 0269.

The Gooderham Fountain was built in 1911. It is thought to have been designed by George W. Guinlock, the architect of many buildings on the CNE grounds. The fountain was inspired by those in Rome’s St. Peter’s Square. The fountain was named after George W. Gooderham, a prominent industrialist, president of the CNE from 1909 to 1911. It was located at the western side of the Ex, near the Horticultural Building. The fountain was a favourite meeting place for visitors who attended the CNE, and for Torontonians, was the origin of the expression, “Meet me at the fountain.” The Gooderham Fountain was demolished in 1958 and replaced by the Princess Margaret Fountain. It was officially opened by HRH in 1958, during her royal tour of Canada.  

1928. pictures-r-4190[1] 

The Gooderham Fountain in 1928, Toronto Public Library, r- 4190.

                          The CNE Flag Pole

Fonds 1244, Item 631B   Fonds 1244, Item 631A

The flag pole at the Ex in 1930 (left-hand photo), Toronto Archives F1244, Item 0631b, and its installation (right-hand photo), Toronto Archives F1244, Item 0631a

1936- f1231_it1451[1]

The base of the flagpole in 1936, the Horticultural Building (now Muzik) in the background. Toronto Archives, F 1231, Item 1451 

The flag pole depicted in the above photos was donated to the CNE by J. G. Robson. The magnificent Douglas Fir, hewn from the forests on Vancouver Island, was 184 feet (56 metres) tall after it was trimmed. Shipped from British Columbia via the Panama Canal, it was brought to Toronto through the St. Lawrence River. At its base, it was 36 inches in diameter. Because it required time to cure the wood, it was not installed at the CNE until 1930. In that year, it claimed to be the world’s largest flag pole.

It was replaced in June, 1977 by a pole of British Columbia redwood, shipped to Toronto on three flatbed rail cars. It was 196 feet (60 metres) tall, and again, was said to be the world’s tallest. However, eventually it began to rot and unfortunately it was removed from the grounds.

Information about the 1977-flag pole: Mike Filey  http://oppositethecity.wordpress.com

                            Automotive Shows

Automotive Blg, Canada A. 1939, a052897-v8[1]

The Automotive Show in 1939, in the Automotive Building. Canada Archives, a0528897-v8

The Automotive Building, built in 1929, survives to this day. However, it has been rebuilt and is now a convention facility named the Allstream Centre. Until the 1960s, each year during the run of the CNE it housed the automotive show, which featured the latest models of cars for that year. As a boy, I remember visiting it. I never tired of getting behind the wheel of the shiny new cars and playing with the knobs and buttons on the dashboard. I dreamt of being of sufficient age to qualify for a driver’s license. The auto show was one of the most popular features of the Ex.  

   Horse, Dairy and Agricultural Shows and Contests

Beef cattle, 1980s, Ont. Archives  I0004457[1]  Elsie the Cow, 1941, Ont. A. I0011011[1]

Beef cattle at the CNE in the 1980s, Ontario Archives 10004457 (left-hand photo) and Borden Dairies’ “Elsie the Cow” in 1941, Ontario Archives 10011011 (right-hand photo)

After the Ex opened in 1879, for many years it featured both industrial and agricultural products. In the Horse Palace and Coliseum there were farm animals and horse shows. As well, there were judged competitions of homemade jams, jellies, preserves etc. I remember the horse shows in the Coliseum and of course, Borden Dairy’s advertisements that featured “Elsie the Cow.”

                 Ontario Government Building

Aug. 12, 1929--s0071_it7109[1]

The Ontario Government Building on August 13, 1929. Toronto Archives, S0071, Item 7109.

The Ontario Government Building was constructed in 1926 to showcase exhibitions of the Ontario Government. Today, it is no longer open as part of the Ex as it is occupied by the Liberty Grand. I remember visiting the building when I was a boy, and also as a teenager. In its central courtyard there were many large aquariums containing the species of fish native to Ontario. There were also colourful over-sized representations of the fictional lumberjack, Paul Bunyan, and Babe, his Blue Ox.

              PICT0074

Paul Bunyan the lumberjack, famous in American folklore. Photo taken in 1958 in the interior courtyard of the Ontario Government Building.

PICT0075 

Paul Bunyan’s Babe, the Blue Ox, in the courtyard of the Government Building in 1958.

                                     Trout Fishing

PICT0076

         Trout fishing in the Coliseum at the CNE in 1958.

                 The Flyer, the Rollercoaster at the CNE

PICT0084

This photo of the Flyer at the CNE was taken with a 35mm Kodak Pony camera in 1958, from the top of the Shell Tower. Built in 1953, the year of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, the Flyer was advertised as the “fastest in the world,” as it reached speeds of up to 65 miles an hour. It was 2612 feet in length and 62 feet in height, capable of carrying over 26,000 passengers a day. I remember riding the Flyer and experiencing the thrill of the downward plunge from the tallest section of the structure. Unfortunately, as technology and tastes of the public changed, the Flyer was viewed as tame. It was demolished in June 1992, after it failed the safety tests. However, for several decades, it was the  main “thriller” of the CNE midway. Over 9 million passengers enjoyed the ride during the years it operated.  (information from CNE Archives)

Series 1465, File 129, Item 12

The CNE’s roller coaster (the Flyer) in 1976, the Bulova (Shell) Tower to the right of it. Toronto Archives, S1465, Fl0129, id 0012. 

To view the Home Page for this blog: https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/

For more information about the topics explored on this blog:

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2016/03/02/tayloronhistory-comcheck-it-out/

The publication entitled, “Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” explores 50 of Toronto’s old theatres and contains over 80 archival photographs of the facades, marquees and interiors of the theatres. It includes anecdotes and stories by the author and others who experienced these grand old movie houses.  

                          cid_E474E4F9-11FC-42C9-AAAD-1B66D852[1]

   To place an order for this book:

https://www.historypress.net/catalogue/bookstore/books/Toronto-Theatres-and-the-Golden-Age-of-the-Silver-Screen/9781626194502 .

Book also available in Chapter/Indigo, the Bell Lightbox Book Shop, AGO Gift Shop, and by phoning University of Toronto Press, Distribution: 416-667-7791 (ISBN 978.1.62619.450.2)

                                 image_thumb6_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb[1]    

Published by Dundurn Press, this book tells the story of 80 of Toronto’s former movie theatres. It is entitled, “Toronto’s Movie Theatres of Yesteryear—Brought Back to Thrill You Again.” It contains over 125 archival photographs and relates interesting anecdotes about the grand old theatres.

The book is available at local book stores throughout Toronto or for  a link to order this book: https://www.dundurn.com/books/Torontos-Local-Movie-Theatres-Yesteryear

 

                        Toronto: Then and Now®

Another publication, “Toronto Then and Now,” published by Pavilion Press (London, England) explores 75 of the city’s heritage sites. For further information follow the link to Amazon.com  here  or contact the publisher directly by the link shown below:

http://www.ipgbook.com/toronto–then-and-now—products-9781910904077.php?page_id=21.

 

 

 

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Ontario Place, closed in 2011

Series 1465, File 361, Item 31

Aerial view of Ontario Place gazing east toward the city, after 1980, Toronto Archives, S 1465, Fl 0361, Item 0012 

My initial visit to Ontario Place was during the summer of 1971. It had officially been opened by Premier Bill Davis on May 22nd of that year, and though I had read about it in the newspapers and viewed film coverage of it on television, it was even more impressive than I had expected. I still remember crossing the glass-covered bridge that spanned the Lakeshore Road, connecting Ontario Place to the mainland. The view of the city to the east and the sprawling islands of Ontario Place, set amid the blue waters of the lake, was magnificent. Perhaps the most eye-catching feature of all was the geodesic-like dome named Cinesphere.

Construction on Ontario Place commenced on March 17, 1969. Three islands were built by dumping landfill into the shallow waters at the edge of Lake Ontario, to the south of the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE). The islands were connected by bridges and walkways. Three old lake freighters were sunk on the southeast side of the park to create a breakwater; behind it was a marina. The total size of the grounds was 96 acres, of which 51 were landfill. On the islands were five futuristic pods (buildings), designed by architects Craig, Zeilder, and Strong. Constructed on steel stilts, the glass and steel structures hovered high above the water. They contained displays, multi-media exhibitions, and restaurants. Scattered throughout the grounds were boutiques, shops, food kiosks, and pubs. Visitors were able to rent paddle boats to navigate the lagoons among the islands.

The concert venue, named the Forum, had a seating capacity of 1500, with another 8000 sitting on the hills that surrounding it on three sides. It contained a circular outdoor stage in an amphitheatre that resembled those of ancient Greece. However, the one at Ontario Place had a canopied roof. Those who were unable to locate seats, sat on the grassy hill surrounding the stage. On weekends, the Forum featured continuous entertainment, including bands, dancers and vocal performers. The total cost to the Ontario Government to build the park and entertainment centre was $29 million.

The enormous dome, Cinesphere, which possessed a 19-metre radius, contained a theatre with a seating capacity of 800. It was the world’s first permanent IMAX movie theatre, one of the inventors of IMAX being the Toronto filmmaker Graeme Ferguson. Cinesphere was similar in appearance to “Spaceship Earth,” built in 1982 at Walt Disney’s Epcot Centre. It has been referred to as the world’s biggest golf ball. The curved movie screen inside Ontario Place’s Cinesphere was the equivalent in height of a six-storey building.

In 1971, it screened the IMAX film “North of Superior,” which captured the splendour of the province’s far north. The most dramatic scenes were those where the cameras, mounted in a helicopter, swept through deep valleys between the canyon walls of jagged rock, and then, suddenly soared upward over the endless forested hills and sparkling blue lakes. It was similar to a virtual reality experience of today, as the audience was a part of the scene, travelling above the rugged landscape. People reacted by leaning in their seats, to the left or right, their movements synchronized with the cameras. They felt as though they were actually flying alongside the photographers.   

When the park was officially opened, it was described as a site that would be continually changing—a work in progress. This was not an exaggeration. The following year, a Children’s Village was added, and in 1973, a water-play area. The waterslide appeared in 1978, the first one built in Canada. The same year the canopy over the stage at the Forum was replaced with one of copper. Bumper boats were also added in the late-1970s for those who wished to have fun on the water of the lagoons.

In 1980, seven tall silos, linked by walkways, were constructed on the west island. Named Ontario North, the silos displayed the wild life of northern Ontario.  In 1981, a 70 mm film festival was held, and for the first time, Cinesphere screened films other than IMAX.

In 1982, Future Pod opened in Pod Five; in it were displays of the province’s advancements in technology, communication and energy. It included a full size replica of the “Canadarm,” a robotic appendage used on space craft, in zero gravity. In 1984, on the west island, the Wilderness Adventure Ride was constructed. It was a flume ride (log ride) where people sat in boats that resembled large logs and were propelled down a 40-foot high narrow trough containing gushing water. At the bottom of the trough was a pool, and when the log-boat hit it, it created an enormous splash, invariably drenching the riders. 

In 1991, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the park, free admission was offered. Also, the Festival Stage was built near the Children’s Village as a venue for children’s programming. In 1992 Bungee jumping appeared for those more adventurous, but it did not become a permanent feature of the park.

During the winter of 1994, the Forum was demolished to create the Molson Canadian Amphitheatre. It seated 16,000, whereas the previous venue had held a combined total of 10,500. It opened in 1995 and was immediately popular, despite the misgivings among many fans over losing the original Forum. The same year, the demolition of the older waterslides permitted the building of the Rush River Raft Ride; it possessed rafts that accommodated five people. They descended from a height that was the equivalent of an eight-story tower.

The park continued to expand during after the dawn of the 21st century. Among the additions were new restaurants, water slides, and a South Beach volley ball complex. The water in the slides was heated to provide a degree of comfort on cooler days.

In 2006, I shall never forget attending the Rogers Chinese Lantern Festival, installed on the west island. Strolling along the many pathways after dark, I marvelled at the amazing creations. Lanterns were employed to build palaces, markets, replicas of world famous buildings, and streets scenes. There was even a huge dragon that slithered through the water of one of the lagoons.

In 2009, the section of the Martin Goodman Trail near Ontario Place was opened, creating a direct bike path along the city’s waterfront to Ontario Place. The same year, the Event Tent in Market Square was altered to become Heritage Square. For several years, when the CNE was in operation, its entrance fee included Ontario Place. When attending the late-summer fair, I enjoyed walking along the paths of Ontario Place, beside the cooling water of the lake. It was a welcome relief from the hustle and bustle of the CNE and the noisy midway.

Despite the many features that were introduced over the years, and I have not listed them all, attendance slowly dwindled. One of the factors was that the city increasingly offered more choices for places to visit, especially during the summer months. In 2011, the government announced that there were plans to redevelop Ontario Place, and it was closed on October 25th of that year. However, in 2015, the West Channel of Ontario Place was employed as the CIBC Pan Am Park, which featured events involving various endurance courses and water sports.

Though there have been a few hints and speculations in the press about the future of Ontario Place, Torontonians still must wait to see what actually will materialize for the park on the shoreline of Lake Ontario. It is hoped that the revitalization will be complete in 2017, in time for the nation’s 150th anniversary of Confederation.

Sources: www.ontarioplace.com  /  http://www.the star.com /  article by Janice Bradbeer in the Star on May 15, 2016.

Note: it was the article in the Star by Janice Bradbeer that inspired this post. I am grateful for her excellent article. 

For news about plans for the Ontario Place of the future: www.cbc.ca/news/…/ontario-place

Series 1465, File 361, Item 32

Ontario Place, the camera pointed west toward Humber Bay. The Lakeshore Road and the CNE Stadium are visible. Toronto Archives, S 1465, fl 10361, Item 0032.

Series 1465, File 361, Item 1

View looking northwest. In the distance is the glass-covered bridge connecting Ontario Place to the mainland. In the foreground is a sailing boat moored at a wharf, and behind it the pods that contained exhibits. Toronto Archives, F 1465, Fl 10361, Item 0001. 

                          Series 1465, File 361, Item 3

Cinesphere, which housed the IMAX theatre, one of the pods in the foreground. Toronto Archives, F 1465, Fl 10361, Item 0003.

                         f0124_fl0009_id0024[1]

View of the west side of Cinesphere, where the exit from the theatre was located. Toronto Archives, F0124, fl 0009, Id 0024.    

 1978-  (2)

View of Ontario Place in 1978, the camera looking east toward the Toronto skyline and the CN Tower.

1978-

                           View of one of the pods in 1978.

                        f0124_fl0009_id0101[1]

Looking east along a bridge from the west island, a slice of the CN Tower visible in the upper left-hand corner. Toronto Archives, F0124, Fl 0009, id 0101.

f0124_fl0009_id0105[1]

The eastern side of the same bridge as in the previous photo. Toronto Archives, F 0124, Fl 0009, id. 0105.

f0124_fl0009_id0118[1]

The silos built in 1980, named “Ontario North,” which displayed the wild life of the northern part of the province. Toronto Archives, F0124, fl 0009, id. 0118. 

Series 1465, File 150, Item 4

Bumper boats, introduced in 1980 for the lagoons between the islands. Toronto Archives, S 1465, Fl 0150, id 0004. 

Series 1465, File 393, Item 8

Water slide at Ontario Place, Toronto Archives, S 1465, fl 10393, Item 0008.

Series 1465, File 360, Item 7

A dining/pub restaurant near the marina, Toronto Archives, F1465, Fl 0071, Item 0071. 

Series 1465, File 332, Item 25

View gazing south at sunset from the shoreline of the lake, Toronto Archives, S1464, F10332, Item 0025.

 Series 1465, File 138, Item 5

After dark, Ontario Place was a place to relax and have fun with friends and family. Toronto Archives, F1465, fl0332, id 0025.

To view the Home Page for this blog: https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/

For more information about the topics explored on this blog:

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2016/03/02/tayloronhistory-comcheck-it-out/

The publication entitled, Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” explores 50 of Toronto’s old theatres and contains over 80 archival photographs of the facades, marquees and interiors of the theatres. It relates anecdotes and stories by the author and others who experienced these grand old movie houses.  

                          cid_E474E4F9-11FC-42C9-AAAD-1B66D852[1]

   To place an order for this book:

https://www.historypress.net/catalogue/bookstore/books/Toronto-Theatres-and-the-Golden-Age-of-the-Silver-Screen/9781626194502 .

Book also available in Chapter/Indigo, the Bell Lightbox Book Shop, and by phoning University of Toronto Press, Distribution: 416-667-7791 (ISBN 978.1.62619.450.2)

                                 image_thumb6_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb[2]    

Another book on theatres, published by Dundurn Press, is entitled, “Toronto’s Movie Theatres of Yesteryear—Brought Back to Thrill You Again.” It contains over 125 archival photographs and relates interesting anecdotes about these grand old theatres and their fascinating histories.

The book is available at local book stores throughout Toronto or for a link to order this book: https://www.dundurn.com/books/Torontos-Local-Movie-Theatres-Yesteryear

                        Toronto: Then and Now®

Another publication, “Toronto Then and Now,” published by Pavilion Press (London, England) explores 75 of the city’s heritage sites. It contains archival and modern photos to allow readers to compare scenes and discover how they have changed over the decades. For further information follow the link to Amazon.com  here  or contact the publisher directly by the link below:

http://www.ipgbook.com/toronto–then-and-now—products-9781910904077.php?page_id=21

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Chorley Park (demolished), residence of Ontario’s lieu. governor

July 4, 1924. f1548_s0393_it18999b[1]

Government House—”Chorley Park” on July 4, 1924. Toronto Archives, F1548, S 0393, Item 1899.

The term “Government House” is the official title that applies to residences of the Lieutenant Governors in the countries and provinces throughout the British Commonwealth. Ontario’s first Government House was Navy Hall, at Niagara-on-the-Lake, which was occupied by the colony’s first Lieutenant Governor—John Graves Simcoe. After Simcoe relocated the seat of government to York (Toronto) in 1793, a canvas house (tent) technically became Government House, though it is a stretch of the imagination to refer to it as such. In 1800, a governor’s residence was constructed beside Fort York, which was torched when the Americans invaded the town in 1813.

In 1815,  the government purchased the home of Chief Justice John Elmsley to provide a residence for the lieutenant governors. It was located at King and Simcoe Streets. A new residence was built in 1870 on the same site as Elmsley House. However, as the land surrounding it became increasingly industrial, another site was sought. The Government House, built in 1870, was sold in 1912. After much disagreement and controversy, it was decided that the new vice-regal residence was to be at Chorley Park, in North Rosedale, facing southeast overlooking the Don Valley. Until it was built, the lieutenant governor resided at Cumberland House, a mansion on St. George Street, north of College Street. This house still exists today. 

 DSCN7814

       Cumberland House on St. George Street. Photo taken in 2015.

Chorley Park had been named after a town in Lancashire, in England. Government House, which was built within the park, required four year to complete (1911-1915). It was officially opened on November 15, 1915, and was one of the grandest mansions ever constructed in Toronto. Its cost was budgeted at $215,00, but it required over $1,000,000 to complete. An impressive driveway from Roxborough Drive led to a grand circular terrace, and from there, a concrete bridge led to a forecourt in front of the mansion. The forecourt was intended for formal outdoor receptions and vice-regal events. There was another driveway from Douglas Drive.

Chorley Park’s architect was Francis R. Hawkes, who also designed the Whitley Building at Queen’s Park and the Mining building at the University of Toronto. For Government House, he chose the French Chateau style. The Canadian Pacific Railway’s chain of hotels employed the same architecture, the Royal York Hotel being a prime example. The Chorley Park mansion resembled a castle-like structure, reminiscent of those in Loire Valley in France. Symmetrical in design, it was richly ornamented, containing many turrets and pinnacles, even the chimneys architecturally decorated. Constructed of grey Credit Valley limestone, its multiple roofs were of red ceramic tiles. The front reception hall was three storeys in height, lit by a skylight, with galleries surrounding it. The hall resembled the one that today is in the legislative building at Queen’s Park. The state dining room was richly panelled in oak. All public rooms had grand vistas of the Don Valley. The formal gardens surrounding the mansion were designed by C. W. Levitt of New York.

However, the cost of maintaining the mansion increased each year. After the Great Depression began in 1929, the dollars spent to maintain Chorley Park became a political embarrassment. In 1934, Mitchell Hepburn was elected premier, one of his campaign promises being to trim government expenses. Chorley Park was an obvious target. Its official function as Government House ceased in 1937, and the furnishings and contents of the mansion were disposed in an auction.

The house was  purchased in 1940 by the Federal Government for a military hospital, but this ended 1953. During the Korean War, it was employed as a training and recruitment facility. Later, it housed refugees escaping the Hungarian revolution of 1956. It was bought by the City of Toronto in 1960 for $100,000, and the following year, it was demolished to create a public park. Only the concrete bridge that gave assess to the residence from the grand circle survives as a reminder of the glory days of the vice-regal mansion. Today, there are trails that lead from the park down into the Evergreen Brick Works in the Don Valley.

Ontario is the only province that today has no Government House. Its lieutenant governors have a suite in the west wing of the legislature at Queen’s Park for receptions, and live in private homes of their own choosing.

Sources: torontoist.com     torontothenandnow.blogspot.com   torontoplaques.com   torontohistory.net   “Lost Toronto” by William Dendy.

                             Chorley_Park_Map[1]

                     The location of Government House in Chorley Park.

Fonds 1244, Item 3102

View in 1911 of the entrance to Government House from Roxborough Drive and  the circular terrace, when it was under construction. The bridge connecting the circular terrace and the forecourt is visible. Toronto Archives, F1244, Item 3102.

after 1900-  f1568_it0227[1]

View of Chorley Park after 1900, from the driveway from Roxborough Drive, which led to the circular terrace. Toronto Archives, F1568, Item 10086. 

Fonds 1244, Item 2411

State dining room c. 1915. Toronto Archives, F1244, Item 2411.

c. 1915, Ont. A. I0031416[1]

Artist’s rendition of Chorley Park c. 1915. The circular terrace is visible, and the small bridge leading to the forecourt in front of the mansion. Ontario Archives, 10031416.

Fonds 1244, Item 10086

An aerial view of Chorley Park c. 1930. It reveals the two entrances, one of them from Roxborough Drive (on the south) and the other from Douglas Drive.  Toronto Archives F1244, Item 10086. 

Fonds 1244, Item 1128

Aerial view of the two driveways, the circular terrace, the forecourt, and the mansion. Toronto Archives, F1244, Item 1128. 

1925- Ont. A.  I0012487[1]

View of Chorley Park from the forecourt, in 1925. Ontario Archives, 10012487.

reception, 1925, Ont. A. I0031278[1]

Reception in the forecourt in 1925. Ontario Archives, 10031278.

Government House, Rosedale, Toronto, (Commercial Department) – August 3, 1928

Government House on August 3, 1928. Toronto Archives, S0071, Item 6102.

demolition, 1959,  Ont. A. I0013933[1]

Chorley Park in 1961, when it was being demolished. Ontario Archives, 10013933.

demolition, 1959,  Ont. A. I0013935[1]

  Chorley Park during demolition in 1961. Ontario Archives, 10013935. 

To view the Home Page for this blog: https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/

For more information about the topics explored on this blog:

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2016/03/02/tayloronhistory-comcheck-it-out/

The publication entitled, Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” explores 50 of Toronto’s old theatres and contains over 80 archival photographs of the facades, marquees and interiors of the theatres. It relates anecdotes and stories by the author and others who experienced these grand old movie houses.  

                          cid_E474E4F9-11FC-42C9-AAAD-1B66D852[1]

   To place an order for this book:

https://www.historypress.net/catalogue/bookstore/books/Toronto-Theatres-and-the-Golden-Age-of-the-Silver-Screen/9781626194502 .

Book also available in Chapter/Indigo, the Bell Lightbox Book Shop, and by phoning University of Toronto Press, Distribution: 416-667-7791 (ISBN 978.1.62619.450.2)

                                 image_thumb6_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb[2]    

Another book on theatres, published by Dundurn Press, is entitled, “Toronto’s Movie Theatres of Yesteryear—Brought Back to Thrill You Again.” It contains over 125 archival photographs and relates interesting anecdotes about these grand old theatres and their fascinating histories.

The book is available at local book stores throughout Toronto or for a link to order this book: https://www.dundurn.com/books/Torontos-Local-Movie-Theatres-Yesteryear

                        Toronto: Then and Now®

Another publication, “Toronto Then and Now,” published by Pavilion Press (London, England) explores 75 of the city’s heritage sites. For further information follow the link to Amazon.com  here  or contact the publisher directly by the link below:

http://www.ipgbook.com/toronto–then-and-now—products-9781910904077.php?page_id=21

 

 

Tags: ,